How Long Does Alcohol Stay On Your Breath?

You have a few drinks at the bar. Then you have a glass of water and some food. You want to make sure that you’re alert and able to drive home safely. You get into the car and begin your journey home. Then, not long after you begin to drive away, you see red and blue lights in your rearview mirror.

Should you panic? What if the police officer – who clearly saw you leave the bar – suspects that you’re drunk or impaired? Should you take a breathalyzer if they ask you to? How long does alcohol stay on your breath and in your system after you drink anyway? Here’s what you need to know.

Alcohol Isn’t Broken Down Right Away After You Drink It

Alcohol doesn’t get broken down by the body right away after you have a drink. In fact, it’s metabolized much differently than other beverages and food. When you take a sip, about 20 percent of the alcohol you consume goes straight into your blood vessels. That pretty much sends it directly to your brain, where it begins to affect you.

The other 80 percent heads to your small intestine and then the blood. When your blood circulates through the liver, it’s processed – or metabolized – and removed.

How Long Does it Take to Metabolize Alcohol?

It depends. And it depends on a lot of different factors. Your age, weight, and gender are all important considerations. So is the type of alcohol you’ve had and any food you’ve consumed. However, experts are generally in agreement that it takes one hour for your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) to drop by .015.

So, let’s say you had four 16 ounce beers at the bar. It took you about two hours to finish them. If you’re a male who weighs 175 pounds, your BAC would be .09 percent. That’s over the legal limit and you could be charged wiht a DUI if you decided to drive home right away.

How long would it take for your BAC to drop to a level that’s considered safe? Your BAC is at .09 percent. It has to be less than .08 percent for you to drive without breaking California’s per se DUI law. So, you’d have to wait at least one hour before you got behind the wheel. By that point in time, your BAC would likely be .075 percent.

It’s important to note that you can still face charges for DUI if your BAC is even slightly elevated and an officer believes that you’re not capable of driving safely.

Alcohol Can Stay On Your Breath for a Day

The more alcohol you drink, the longer it will stay in your blood. If there’s alcohol in your blood, it can be detected in your breath. Generally speaking, breath tests can detect alcohol on your breath for up to 24 hours after you’ve stopped drinking.

When compared to blood and urine tests, that’s a considerably short period of time. Depending on the type of test, alcohol can be detected in your urine for anywhere between 8 and 80 hours after you’ve finished. Ethanol tests can usually detect alcohol for up to 12 hours, and EtG test can detect it for days after you’ve had a drink.

Blood tests can detect alcohol up to 36 hours – or 3 days – after you’ve finished drinking. Hair tests can reveal traces of alcohol in your system up to three months after you’ve had a drink. However, the sooner the test is performed, the more reliable and accurate it will likely be.

Do I Have to Take a Breath Test in California?

Yes. Refusing to take a breathalyzer can have serious consequences. That’s because, thanks to California’s implied consent law, simply driving a car means that you automatically agree to chemical testing if you’re arrested on suspicion of DUI. Refusing to take a chemical test – by providing a sample of your breath, blood, urine, or hair – can lead to the immediate suspension of your driver’s license and harsher DUI penalties.

So, the best thing to do is to wait to get behind the wheel until it’s safe to drive. Use a BAC calculator to determine – based on your weight, gender, the number of drinks you’ve had, and how long you’ve been drinking – your BAC. Then calculate how long it will take for your BAC to drop below the legal limit. Even then, it’s important to consider whether you feel capable of navigating a car safely.

Better yet, avoid the issue and risk of getting a DUI altogether by calling a cab, requesting an Uber, taking the bus, or designating a sober driver.